Talk to Me, from first-time directors Danny and Michael Philippou, was a breath of fresh air in a sea of sequels and rehashed horror tropes. Centred around a group of teenagers who use a mysterious embalmed hand to summon spirits, this Australian production delivers an emotional story that explores grief and loss through the lens of the supernatural. Talk to Me marks an impressive debut for the Philippou brothers and proves that they are talents to watch in the horror genre.
Much like Bloody Marry or Candy Man, Talk to Me takes on a similar premise to many films about a childhood game that turns sinister. With a mix of Chat Roulette meets Poltergeist, the titular game brings teenagers together to use a ceramic hand to talk to spirits. With a cold open that gives a taste of the consequences of the game, Talk to Me wastes no time introducing the brutal anguish that lies just under the surface to what seemingly seems like an exercise in childish fun.
At the heart of Talk to Me lies newcomer Sophie Wilde, who stars as the lead character Mia. Still struggling with the recent loss of her mother, Mia finds herself obsessed with using a ceramic hand rumoured to allow communication with the dead. Wilde delivers an incredible debut performance, portraying Mia as a complex character driven by grief but reckless in her actions. Wilde’s emotional portrayal makes Mia sympathetic and heartbreaking even as the situation grows dire.
“Wilde delivers an incredible debut performance, portraying Mia as a complex character driven by grief but reckless in her actions.”
The supporting cast—including Alexandra Jensen as Mia’s friend Jade and Miranda Otto as Jade’s mother—are also standouts. They help ground the story and heighten the stakes once the horror elements come into play. In particular, young actor Joe Bird is surprisingly powerful as Jade’s younger brother Riley. His chemistry with Wilde provides some touching and humorous moments early on, making later tragic events all the more impactful.
On the technical side of the film, Talk to Me showcases the Philippou brothers‘ skills behind the camera. They use sound, cinematography and editing to create an atmosphere of hopeless dread throughout. The film often uses long takes and muted colours to emphasise Mia’s isolation and depression following her mother’s death. Close-ups of the eerie embalmed hand will make the viewer squirm, while the unnerving sound design ratchets up the tension during key sequences, making what might seem cheesy in some films feel utterly horrifying.
When the possessions begin, the directors use practical effects to depict the characters’ horrific transformations. The inventive manifestations and creepy make-up effects skilfully walk the line between scary and funny. The scenes take on an eerie, nightmarish quality as the friends take turns shaking hands and inviting ghosts into their bodies. It is clear from watching that the filmmakers deeply love horror conventions while putting their own spin on the genre. Even the way the camera moves around the scenes, with clever use of editing, is a deceptively simple concept that draws the viewer in as things fall apart.
“Talk to Me marks an impressive debut for the Philippou brothers and proves that they are talents to watch in the horror genre.”
Personally, the possession party early on in the film feels very similar to how many 90’s era drug movies dealt with the concept of addiction. It starts off fun, with everything acting silly, enjoying the many spirits they get to experience, but much like a film like Trainspotting, once things take a turn, it quickly becomes a struggle to simply survive, with each new use of the hand being one step closer to oblivion.
Talk to Me may not reinvent the wheel when it comes to possession stories, but it excels at bringing emotion into the horror. While not overly gory, the directors still deliver chilling and intense scenes throughout. However, jump scares take a back seat in order to explore grief, trauma, and the bonds between the characters. Don’t get me wrong, you will squirm while watching Talk to Me, but thankfully random stingers are less prominent when compared to how the story and situations make you dread the next scene.
The screenplay by Danny Philippou and Bill Hinzman dedicates ample time in the first act to show Mia interacting with Jade’s family. These small moments, like Mia and Riley rocking out to music in the car, establish an intimacy that makes subsequent tragic events land with incredible force. This is someone that feels a part of Jade’s family, and with her recent loss, they are her support system with a genuine sense of compassion and comradery that we all can relate to.
In particular, the relationship between the withdrawn Mia and lively Riley adds touching layers to the story. Their natural chemistry provides moments of levity early on, making later horrific events all the more distressing when Riley becomes endangered. Their strong bond fuels the tension as Mia grows increasingly desperate. These scenes are painted with a delicate touch that not only sets the tone for the relationship but works to turn sentimental moments on their head as the supernatural elements start getting thrown into the mix.
Between the strong lead performance from Sophie Wilde, slick direction, and focus on character relationships, the Philippou brothers have crafted an impressive debut that stays with you after the credits roll. For a first feature, Talk to Me showcases a surprising level of skill from directors Danny and Michael Philippou. From the cinematography to the sound design, it’s an excellent production that builds tension through emotional storytelling rather than cheap scares. It blends grief, friendship, and the supernatural into a potent horror cocktail.
The ending may leave some questions unanswered, but the cryptic nature only adds to the unsettling atmosphere. While not everything works, the flaws are easily forgiven, considering the directors’ talents on display here. Horror fans will walk away from Talk to Me thrilled by this new directorial duo and eager to see what they deliver next.